The eyes of the nation, insofar as they are focused on anything these days, are mostly focused on their own toes wriggling contentedly at the end of a beach blanket. Many are trained on cold glasses of beer, others, with alarm, on the rising cost of living (see cover story). But the country’s media are concentrating a good deal of their ferocious attention on the federal byelection in Toronto’s Spadina riding, where Jim Coutts, the most powerful backroom boy in Canada, is attempting to win a seat in Parliament and, ultimately, in the Liberal cabinet.
The election was made-to-order for Coutts, 43-year-old former principal secretary and friend to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when the Liberal incumbent Peter Stollery, 45, was sent to the Senate on July 2. That gave Coutts access to the safest Liberal seat in English Canada and a 10-day jump on his opponents in campaigning. So far neither the faltering Tories nor the second-place NDP have been able to catch up. Not that Coutts is relaxing. He has been door-knocking, grabbing at the hands of sleepy commuters in subway stations and pitching his few public appearances to Spadina’s fiercely Liberal ethnic voter. “There is no doubt as to why the people on the streets like the prime minister,” he said in one speech. “He’s like they are. He’s strong, he works hard, he tells it like it is. . . .” Coutts is distinctly not interested in talking about the dollar, high interest rates or the economy because he says they aren’t issues in Spadina. “Most of the anger is in the boardroom of The
Toronto Sun,” he said last week. If that isn’t so, “why haven’t the Gallup polls [which still show the Liberals ahead in general popularity] changed?”
That approach infuriates Laura Sabia, the former chairman of the Ontario Status of Women Council, and Spadina’s Tory candidate. “We can’t get Jimmy to talk about the issues,” she says, adding that what Canada needs is
economic leadership of the sort being displayed by Ronald Reagan. On top of that, Coutts is talking down to ethnic voters, “exploiting and insulting them.” Spadina is a colorful, ethnically mixed area which includes Kensington Market, leafy inner-city side streets noisy with children and the trendy redbrick ghettos that circle the University of Toronto. Despite Sabia’s own Italian background, she is encumbered by traditional hostility to the PC party among ethnics, and her own well-publicized view (she was a columnist for the rightwing Toronto Sun before entering the fray) that government immigration policies should be aimed at integration rather than emphasizing cultural dif-
ferences. But her greatest millstone may be her own Tory organization. She could barely hide her annoyance last week when organizers led her and a small band of reporters on a fruitless search for Spadina voters through halfempty apartments. First stop, at what was supposed to be a senior citizens’ home, turned out to be a student residence and, later the same evening, she was almost chased off a street corner in a heavily Portuguese area by some Liberal hecklers when her supporters tried to stage a one-person “debate.”
Perhaps the only candidate with a chance of thwarting Jim Coutts’s considerable ambition is also the least known outside the riding: the NDP’s Daniel Heap, a 55-year-old Anglican clergyman, factory worker and now alderman for Spadina’s Chinatown area. Born in Winnipeg, Heap left his Anglican parish in Kazabazua, Que., in 1954 to work for 18 years in a Toronto corrugated box factory so he could be closer to working people. He became interested in politics during the Second World War when none of his religious instructors “raised a voice against the killing.” While there is no doubting his sincerity, he is hampered by a somewhat leaden campaign style and a stubborn adherence to principle—neither assets in contemporary politics. However, Heap is working hard and has a strong organization which is claiming a modest breakthrough in the traditionally Liberal ethnic community.
What is more likely is that on the evening of Aug. 17, as reporters and political groupies gather to watch election results, they will hear gasps of surprise from hundreds of miles away on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River in the Quebec riding of Joliette. There is a byelection going on there, too—though largely ignored in English Canada— with Tory Roch Lasalle trying to make a comeback against strong, local Liberal candidate Michel Denis, 49. Observers say the race is still too close to call. Now that, as opposed to what is happening in Spadina, is an election. —SUSAN RILEY
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